|Copenhagen native and 22 year veteran Morten Andersen is still kicking after all these years.
by David Zingler
Photos by Tom Dahlin & Bryan Singer
anuary 17, 1999 is a day that lives forever in infamy with Vikings fans. With just over five minutes remaining in overtime of the NFC Championship Game, Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen stepped onto the Metrodome turf and nailed a 38 yard field goal that ended the Vikings 15-1 dream season with a resounding thud. To this day, neither the team, nor its fans, has fully recovered.
"It was exciting because it put us in the Super Bowl," Andersen, now a Viking, said of the kick nearly six years later. "From that standpoint it was probably the biggest one, but it certainly wasnt the toughest kick Ive ever made. It was the one that had the biggest impact on a single team that Ive been a part of."
Andersen points to that moment as the highlight of his long, decorated career, but says that none of his new teammates have mentioned it to him as of yet. "Its not something we need to rehash," he pointed out.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1960, Andersen grew up in nearby Stuer. Unlike in the United States, neither Andersen, nor his childhood playmates, had dreams of NFL glory. "Nothing. I didnt know a thing," the veteran kicker responded when asked how aware he was of the NFL growing up. "I played soccer and team handball, was involved in gymnastics, but I knew nothing of the National Football League."
Andersen came to the United States in 1977 as an exchange student. While attending Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis as a senior, he began his kicking career almost by accident. "The high school football team needed a kicker and asked me to try out and I did," he explained. "I really enjoyed doing it; became pretty proficient fairly quickly, so they kept me around."
After just one high school season, the exchange student received several scholarship offers before eventually deciding on Michigan State University. While at East Lansing, Andersen continued to hone his skills, culminating in a 1st team All-American selection as a senior.
A 4th round selection by the Saints in 1982, Andersen spent 13 years in New Orleans earning Pro Bowl honors six times. In 1995, the veteran signed a free agent contract with Atlanta, where in six seasons, he appeared in a Pro Bowl and helped the Falcons win a conference title.
From there, the Danish native signed with the New York Giants in 2001 and, after one season, caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs. He would spend the next two campaigns in Kansas City before losing his job to the younger Lawrence Tynes in training camp this past summer. The Vikings, in desperate need of some consistency in the kicking game, quickly snapped the seven-time Pro Bowler off the waiver wire.
Even after learning of his release, Andersen said retirement never entered his mind. "I wouldnt have had to necessarily retire, I could always try again next year," he commented. "My goal is to play some more years. (Retirement) was never really an option that I seriously considered. I thought I had enough game to be able to go with another team right away, and that turned out to be true."
While he is roughly two decades older than many of his current teammates, Andersen says the generational gap isnt an issue. "I dont think Ive had a problem bridging it and I certainly dont think my teammates feel that as well," the 44-year-old said. "When I come into a locker room, I just try to fit in and I try to make a difference in a positive way, try to lead, and try to keep the locker room nice and relaxed so that we can go out and have fun on Sunday and win."
Because each began their career in 1982, have enjoyed remarkable longevity, played pivotal roles in the 1998 NFC Championship Game, rank first and second on the NFLs all time scoring list, and have similar surnames; Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen will forever be linked in NFL history.
"Ive known him throughout my years of playing, obviously, and we have a professional relationship," Andersen said of Gary Anderson. "We dont socialize much, but its been very friendly and cordial."
As all Vikings fans are painfully aware of, it was Gary Anderson that missed a 38 yard field goal that would have given the Vikings a 10 point lead in the closing minutes of the 1998 NFC title game. While Morten Andersen ended up being the hero in overtime, he also understood what his counterpart was going through. "I felt terrible for Gary because Ive been on that side, not in a situation like that, but Ive been in a situation where I havent come through at the end of a game," Andersen explained. "Its a nasty feeling. I thought Gary handled it with class."
Gary Anderson, now with the Tennessee Titans, is currently the NFLs all time leading scorer, while Morten Andersen ranks a close second. "(The record) is not something I think about very much," Andersen commented. "Im sure Gary is like I ammore concerned about doing what he can to help the team win."
A MISUNDERSTOOD SCIENCE
Throughout football history, the kicking position has been at best misunderstood and at worst, degraded. Some so-called experts do not consider kickers to be "real" football players. John Madden, for instance, has never named a kicker to his annual "All Madden" team.
Andersen however, takes a diplomatic approach to the subject, "I think (kicking) has sometimes been taken for granted a little bit because guys are getting very good, very proficient at it," he commented. "The kicking position can be the difference in a game. Youve got to have someone thats solid in there and Im glad Im one of them."
In fact, the position may be the most unique in all of sports, but Andersen offered an interesting comparison. "Kicking is a little bit like a golf swing," the veteran explained. "Of course, youre not dealing with the grip or the club or things like that, but I think the swing rhythm and having to keep your head still, compare a little bit to golf."
Currently there is just one full-time kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jan Stenerud. While Andersen will warrant consideration when he does finally decide to retire, dont expect to see him openly campaigning for induction. "Thats not for me to judge," the NFLs all time leader in games played said. "I just try to put a consistent career together, I try to play at a high level and then Ill let people who judge those things make their judgment one day, and well see."
Expect Andersen, who hopes to kick until age 50, to take a low key approach to life when his playing days end, "I dont specifically have anything that I am going to jump right into," he said when asked about his post career plans. "I am a father and husband, so I will be spending some time with my family. I am going to take a little time off, and I am sure there will be opportunities for me."